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Saluting the Clackety-Clack

I Placing first the coin and then his ear upon the humming rail, my Father called ``It's coming!''

and lifted me to his shoulder, fingers in my ears,

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as the 4:15 rumbled past.

He threaded a shoestring through the nail-pierced buffalo's eye,

then handed me the flattened silver necklace I wore daily

with the buckeye bracelet we'd made the week before.

II When Uncle John's troop train

passed through Goshen, we all went,

piling two and three deep behind

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the gas ration stickers.

(``Is this trip necessary?'')

In camouflage greens, it

sped past, past the Red

Cross trays of donuts and

steaming coffee, past

the clanging crossing, past

the assembled family.

Frozen by Grandma's Kodak, we dozen cousins

in our drooping socks and sailor hats

still stand on that July platform,

waving the stars and stripes,

saluting the clackety-clack.

III The Summer I was ten, I jumped four o'clock

box-car shadows as they spilled, then bent,

down the deep slope of Donna's yard.

In playground sing-song, we tallied

the Chessie kittens as they slept past,

dreaming of Calico mothers' languid tongues,

of sun-splotched windowsills.

IV Chicago-bound on Christmas Eve. Cold seeping through

feather pillows, numbing ears. Every window

a filigree of silver frost. Emerging from my quilt cocoon, I joined

college carolers humming ``Silent Night''

through the swaying aisles of the Denver Express.

We didn't know those broad white clumps,

those giant loaves huddled along the Nebraska tracks,

were cattle, frozen:

The Great Plains Blizzard of '58.

V The tracks of my son's Lionel stitched their way

alongside bubbling fish tanks, between table legs,

into my gypsy heart.

As the small green engine

pulled two spotted guinea pigs - placid hippos -

in coal cars cushioned with Kleenex

through the metal tunnels and past the general store,

I heard a distant whistle.

VI Stretched out eye level to the rising stack of green,

through three decades, I repeat my winning strategy:

``Forget Park Place and Boardwalk.

Go for the railroad monopoly.''

VII From Europe I will remember:

White-shirted men leaning out open windows

of Yugoslav trains, sending smoke

rings out against the stars.

The gray and blue and lavender

of the metal and steam and smoke

of Monet's trains, filling once again

the arched chambers of the Paris station.

VIII Now, here, on the Indian-Pacific,

shimmering salt water to my right, to my left

ghost-gums and red Aborigine earth,

I am the woman

framed in the window -

white linen, yellow roses -

silver both in my hand

and flashing round my aging neck.

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